Thursday, October 19th, 2017

Sharon Kay to retire with March 22 open house

Posted: Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Sharon Kay, director of the Huntington County Free Clinic, is retiring from that position. The community is invited to an open house on Friday, March 22 in her honor. It will be held at The Gathering Place located at Guilford and West Washington Streets from 3 to 5 p.m.

For the past four and a half years, Kay has been the director of the Huntington County Free Clinic. The clinic started out as a dream of hers. Then it became a goal, and her mission. On March 22, the clinic will become her legacy to Huntington County.

Kay is retiring, soon to move to Hamilton County to be closer to four of her seven children and 11 of her 13 grandchildren. She will leave behind a rapidly growing clinic that has become a health-care lifeline for hundreds of local residents and an exemplar of neighbor helping neighbor.

The Free Clinic, which has operated since its inception in space provided by Trinity United Methodist Church, serves people who have neither health insurance nor a family doctor. In 2012, the clinic saw 679 individual patients; many of them paid more than one visit. This is an increase from the first 15 months of the Free Clinic’s existence, when 250 people sought care at the downtown Huntington location.

“Before the clinic opened, these were people who waited until they had catastrophic problems, and they ended up in the emergency room,” Kay remembers. “There needed to be something else.”

Kay, who is a registered nurse, had worked in the local office of the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) nutrition program for years and was aware of how many people in the community lacked access to basic health care. She would occasionally refer these patients to her husband, Dr. John B. Kay, who would treat them free of charge if circumstances warranted.

After Dr. Kay’s untimely death in 2000, Sharon realized the people he had been seeing had no place to go. “I worked in public health and I knew there was nobody to turn to,” she said. In her role as a member of the Parkview Huntington Foundation board, she voiced her concerns.

“I opened my mouth and said this town needs something like Matthew 25,” she recalled, referring to the Fort Wayne clinic staffed largely by volunteers and supported by a network of local businesses and not-for-profits. “The next thing I knew I was asked to head a committee to look into a clinic in Huntington.”

With the able assistance of medical and social services figures, the committee found space at Trinity for a clinic and pulled together the resources to open in October 2004. Kay chaired its first advisory board that hired Kelly Treglaff, a nurse practitioner, as the clinical point person. Dr. Patsy Detamore became the medical director.

That staff launched the clinic, which has since expanded into additional space at the church and broadened its services to include not just dental care but a program to deal solely with diabetics. Psychological problems – particularly depression and bipolar disorder – account for a significant number of clinic patients as well.

In eight years, the clinic had helped its patients secure more than $2 million in medications from pharmaceutical companies that provide them free to low-income patients. The clinic’s annual budget has expanded from $45,000 at the outset to $155,000 in 2012, with a part-time paid staff of five people. Most patients are seen on Tuesdays and some programs also operate on Thursdays.

“I have my heart invested in this,” Kay said of the Free Clinic’s mission. “I always have. But I realize that there is a time to leave and it’s time. She continued, “I’d like to think that I treated all the people we served well and that I loved them like my own children. The people who come to the clinic aren’t ‘those people’ – they are members of the human race. I hope that I treated everyone like I’d want to be treated if I were in their place.”